Gig Review: An Evening of Readings

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Having spent yesterday afternoon attending a captivating author talk by Sarah Jasmon at Swindon Central Library, I then spent my evening meeting three more authors in the City of Bath. Organised by the Bath Short Story Award, An Evening of Readings was held in the Gallery Room of the St James Wine Vaults, a friendly pub situated in the streets behind the famous Royal Crescent. The size of the room dictated that this was going to be an intimate event, and great fun it was too.

Opening proceedings was Rachel Heath, who had stepped in at the last minute to replace an unwell Tania Hershman. Rachel read to us from two of her books, and I have now added ‘The Finest Type of Englishwomen’ to my wish list. I loved the pictures painted by the prose which came to life when given the author’s voice. This is what makes these author readings so special.

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Next up was Sarah Hilary, a crime fiction author I have been happy to cheer on from the sidelines for some time. I have watched her well deserved, increasing success with pleasure, but had not yet managed to meet her in person. She read from both her books, ‘Someone Else’s Skin’ and ‘No Other Darkness’, giving life to the dark themes at which she excels. I noted details in the passages chosen which I had missed in my eagerness to turn the page and find out what happened next. Writers work so hard to craft beautiful sentences. It is a shame that some can be overlooked when a story is as compelling as these.

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Last to read was Paul McVeigh whose debut novel, ‘The Good Son’, I recently enjoyed so much. Paul entertained us to great effect, becoming for a time his eleven year old protagonist, Mickey Donnelly. Unfortunately my camera failed to capture a decent image of him reading as he is quite the showman.

Between authors the organisers ensured that the audience were well supplied with a selection of nibbles, while the bar was never far away to quench our thirst.

With readings complete the three authors took seats at the front to answer questions. What ensued was a good deal of amusing banter, feeling more like a friendly conversation amongst friends than a formal Q&A.

At the end of the evening there were books to buy, and a chance for me to introduce myself. Paul is to be commended for working out who I was, despite the chicken avatar I hide behind on Twitter. I was amazed to discover that he is old enough to remember our shared hometown during the period in which his book is set. He claims he uses good moisturiser and I now want to know the brand.

Did I mention that Sarah Jasmon was also in the audience? I couldn’t resist getting all four authors together for a picture.

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My thanks to the Bath Short Story Award for organising such an enjoyable evening. Any writers wishing to submit a story for their consideration should check out these details:

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Author Interview: Paul McVeigh

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There is no doubt in my mind that growing up in 1970s Belfast shaped the person I subsequently became. I remember the casual acceptance of body pat downs and bag searches by armed security personnel before being allowed to browse the aisles in Marks and Spencer; lying down on the seat of the 38 bus when I spotted the brick throwing teenagers by the gasworks on the lower Ormeau Road; standing behind a cordon on the city streets watching the wee robot role towards an illegallly parked van and wondering what its controlled explosion would trigger.

It wasn’t until I went up to the university that I visited the Ardoyne, where Paul McVeigh’s debut novel, The Good Son, is set. I found it a welcoming place, and drank tea with men I later learned were active members of the IRA. None of this phased me. What made me want to leave Belfast was the perpetuation of the bigotry amongst some of my peers. It is possible to accept views from the older generation, who young people rarely credit with much wit, but to see the same views being adopted by those I had regarded as capable of cogent thought was more than I could take.

In The Good Son we are introduced to Mickey Donnelly, an eleven year old boy whose everyday concerns about his Ma, fitting in, friends, and the prospect of a scary new school are more on his mind than the bombs, British army raids and shootings that happen all around. I recognised that boy and I cared about him. I wanted him to have the chances in life that he deserved, despite the damaged world which the adults tasked with his care were perpetuating.

I loved the book and the world that it brought to life through the eyes of a child (you can read my review here). I was therefore delighted when the author agreed to answer a few of my questions, to give us an insight into his work.

Please welcome to neverimitate, Paul McVeigh.

Where do you typically write?

I write in my bedroom. A little desk at the window. This is about to change. Fingers crossed I’ll have a writing room next week. I’ve never been able to write in cafes or trains, they’re too noisy and I’m too nosy.

Tell us about your writing process.

I have gestation periods where I work on ideas in my head for a long time. Then it’s all about making the time and getting on with putting it on the computer. Editing and rewriting is when you make an idea into a story.

Tell us about your publishing experience.

I had some stories published in journals and anthologies. Now my novel is out there.

In what ways do you promote your work?

Readings at festivals and events – when lucky enough to be invited. On social media. By doing this!

What are some of your current projects?

At the Cork Short Story Festival this week. I get to chair an event with one of my favourite writers Claire Keegan. Then I go to a short story festival in Wroclaw, Poland. I’m working on a idea but it’s not quite right yet. And I keep getting distracted by life, things like paying the bills and spending time with people I love.

Where can my readers find you?

Twitter: Paul McVeigh (@paul_mc_veigh)

The Good Son blog: The Good Son | Paul McVeigh

Blog for writers: Paul McVeigh

Facebook: Paul McVeigh | Facebook

Born in Belfast, Paul McVeigh began his writing career as a playwright. He moved to London where he wrote comedy shows, which were performed at the Edinburgh Festival and in London’s West End. His writing career moved into print, writing short stories that have been published in literary journals and anthologies, read on BBC Radio 5 and commissioned by BBC Radio 4.

He is the founding Director of London Short Story Festival and Associate Director at Word Factory, the UK’s leading short story salon. ‘The Good Son’ is his first novel, about a young boy growing up in Belfast during The Troubles, and has been called ‘a work of genius’ by Pulitzer Prize-winner Robert Olen Butler. The Good Son is currently shortlisted for The Guardian’s ‘Not The Booker’ Prize’.

Paul’s blog for writers which posts on submission opportunities for journals and competitions gets 40,000 hits a month internationally.

 

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Book Review: The Good Son

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The Good Son, by Paul McVeigh, tells the story of eleven year old Mickey Donnelly, who lives in Belfast’s troubled Ardoyne but has problems in his life far greater than those caused by sectarian violence. Mickey is different from the other kids and they make is life miserable because of it. He dreams of going to America and living the life he sees on TV. Hemmed in as he is by the segregated schools and housing, the peace lines and death threats, he cannot travel beyond his few home streets.

When the book opens Mickey is looking forward to escaping his local primary school and the misery daily life there entails. He has been offered a place at a grammar school where he hopes he can make a fresh start, find friends and fit in with those who are more like him. Few from his area ever pass the selection tests. When his parents turn up at his school, dressed in their Sunday best, he thinks that somebody must have died. The news they give him is far worse.

Mickey’s Da is a drunk without a job. Mickey hates him for making his beloved Ma’s life so hard. She and his eldest sister work but there is never enough money. Mickey does what he can to be a good son, but his natural exuberance and dreamy nature are a liability. He is expected to grow up and conform.

The story unfolds over the course of the long summer holiday before Mickey starts at his new school. He wants to play with his wee sister, Maggie, but she is itching to join in with the other girls in their street. Mickey would be happy to play with them too, but boys and girls their age rarely mix. When he tries he is mocked and derided.

The background to their lives involves riots and shootings, bombings and random house searches. Helicopters fly overhead and security forces patrol the streets. Mickey knows not to watch too closely and to turn his back when incidents happen. There are some things it is better not to know, especially those which involve his older brother, Paddy.

The violence and poverty are just a part of Mickey’s life. What worries him more is his difference and how to cope with his peers. The author has captured the difficulties faced by a child of this age with a realism that made my heart ache.

There is much humour beside the pathos. Mickey has an infectious energy and optimism despite the wasteland where he resides. He is easily distracted, creating trouble for himself, then dreaming up schemes to undo the damage he has wrought.

I feared where the denouement was going, but this story is about the journey. The author skillfully portrays life in Ardoyne at this difficult time, a tale of a boyhood that he captures perfectly. Mickey Donnelly is a character it would be hard not to care for. He is one I will not readily forget.